Roger Federer aims to bounce back after tough year
ANDY Murray, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic open the new season in Abu Dhabi today, with Roger Federer hoping his absence isn't an indicator of more misery ahead.
World number one Nadal provided the comeback story of 2013, winning 10 titles including a record eighth French Open and a second US Open, which took his majors haul to 13.
Djokovic defended his Australian Open crown, while Murray claimed Britain's first Wimbledon men's title in 77 years.
But while the big three start their new campaigns with a leisurely three-day stroll in the Gulf, record 17-time major winner Federer begins his 17th season as a professional in Brisbane and with his career at a crossroads.
In 2013, the world number six failed to reach a Grand Slam final for the first time since 2002 and his second-round defeat at Wimbledon ended his run of 36 consecutive Grand Slam quarter-finals.
Federer will turn 33 in August but is acutely aware that his great hero, Pete Sampras, quit at 31 and at the top of his game, having secured a fifth US Open title.
Federer's record against the sport's big three also makes for worrying reading – he is 10-22 against Nadal having lost all four matches against the Spaniard this year and 9-11 when up against Murray, losing their one clash in 2013.
He is still ahead in his rivalry with Djokovic at 16-15 but lost both their meetings this year while the Serb has taken six of their last eight matches.
The Swiss goes into 2014 having severed his ties with long-time coach Paul Annacone, one of a number of players to have tweaked their back-up teams over the winter.
"For me, it's pretty simple: this is what I used to do as a little boy. It's something that always is there in your DNA," said Federer, who will be playing a warm-up tournament in Australia for the first time in 11 years.
Nadal missed the UAE tournament in 2012 as well as the Australian Open as he nursed a knee injury for seven months, but he had a record-setting 2013, losing just seven times in 82 matches.
The 27-year-old is now just four majors behind Federer and, with five years on his long-standing rival, is widely expected to pass the mark of the Swiss whose last major was last year's Wimbledon.
Murray missed the closing tournaments of 2013 to undergo back surgery and once his Abu Dhabi stint is over he will join Nadal as leading attraction in Doha which, along with Brisbane and Chennai, opens the season.
"I know how hard it is to win the majors," said Murray, who lost his first four Grand Slam finals.
"I might not win another one but I just want to give myself the best chance to do that.
"Hopefully I'll give myself an opportunity to win another one."